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Lead Detective On Stand In George Zimmerman Trial

Aired July 1, 2013 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: While the lawyers take a sidebar with the judge, let me go back to Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, one of the things that's interesting is we know that Chris Serino, the investigating detective, told the FBI that he felt pressured to file charges. He recommended manslaughter, which is of course a lesser offense than what Zimmerman is facing right now, second-degree murder. But the jury won't know that. The jury won't learn that probably, right?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, absolutely. That's the kind of thing that would definitely keep from the jury. It's certainly an issue that is very much a public issue at this point, since I think the consensus seems to be the government is having a very hard time proving the level of intent that's needed for second- degree murder. Should they have gone for a lesser charge, manslaughter, in the first place?

But those are the kinds of issues that quite properly are not before the jury. The jury -- that would just place irrelevant and perhaps prejudicial information for the jury. So that's a subject for to us talk about and for the people who run Florida government to talk about, but it's certainly not something the jury should be concerned with.

TAPPER: While that sidebar continues, let's continue to review what's going on today in the courtroom. Let's hear more from the audiotape where Zimmerman was saying that he was the one yelling for help after Trayvon Martin jumped him.


GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, DEFENDANT (via audiotape): I was still yelling for help, and I could see people looking and some guy yells out, "I'm calling 911." I said, "Help me, help me, he's killing me." And he puts his hand on my nose and on my mouth and he says, "You're going to die tonight." And I don't remember much after that. I just remember I couldn't breathe.


TAPPER: Jeffrey and Diane, while the lawyers continue to sidebar in the court, let's talk about this. The FBI voice analyst who testified this morning said he could not determine who was yelling from the 9/11 call that had screaming in the background. So why is the prosecution, Diane, letting the jury hear Zimmerman say that it was him who was yelling? DIANE DIMOND, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, you know, it's odd. You have a body of evidence in a case, and the lawyers on both sides have to decide are we going to let them bring it up or are we going to bring it up? And I think the prosecution rightly says, look, the stuff is out there. It's has been played on the news before. Florida has Sunshine Laws, so the media gets everything as soon as the police get it practically. So, I think the prosecution feels that if it introduces this, it has control over it.

The reality is no matter what the prosecution brings up, the defense is able to say hey, yeah, but wait a minute. Our guy says that was him calling for help. And there's nobody left to dispute it.

TAPPER: Jeff, o you think it's just the facts of this case that are making it difficult for the prosecution, or do you think the prosecutor is missing opportunities?

TOOBIN: No, I think the facts are what the facts are. And the tape is Zimmerman's version of what ent on. And there was basically no way that I could see that he could keep it out of evidence. What I find bizarre is why they called this audio expert in the morning to say that he couldn't tell whose voice it was --

DIMOND: To say nothing.

TOOBIN: So what?

TAPPER: Right.

TOOBIN: Why call a witness who can parade his ignorance before the jury? It just seems to me to raise more questions than it settles. And when you're the prosecutor, you want to say to the jury this is a simple case, the facts point in this direction. If you're calling witnesses who say I don't know, why are you doing that?

DIMOND: Well, don't you think - Jeffrey, don't you think probably just for reasonable doubt? He says that's him calling, but the fact is nobody else can tell for sure. I think it's just for reasonable doubt reasons. Don't you?

TOOBIN: But the prosecution's trying to make it beyond a reasonable doubt. This seems to add doubt.

DIMOND: I know.

TOOBIN: That's -- yes, I can see why the defense might want to call someone who just throws all their chips in the air and says I don't know, but why would a prosecutor do such a thing? I don't get it.

TAPPER: While the sidebar continues, let's go to the videotape reenactment and get your views on that. This is the moment -- Zimmerman is describing the moment when the shot rang out.


GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, DEFENDANT: That's when my jacket went up and I had my firearm on my right side hit. My jacket moved up. And he saw it -- I feel like he looked at it. He said, you're going to die tonight (EXPLETIVE DELETED). And he reached for it, like, I felt his arm going down to my side. And I grabbed it and I just grabbed my firearm (INAUDIBLE).


TAPPER: It does seem, Jeffrey and Diane, that his story has basically stayed consistent from the moment he started talking to police officers throughout all these interviews. That's not to say that it's the truth or that it's not the truth, but it does seem relatively consistent. It does look - by the way, I'm sorry, the sidebar is about to end. We'll come back to you in a second as we go back to the courtroom.


MARK O'MARA, ZIMMERMAN'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Is this a medical examiner photograph showing the gunshot wound to Trayvon Martin?

SERINO: Yes, it is.

O'MARA: Was the purpose in showing this photograph to the defendant to show how skinny, as you stated in the recording, Trayvon Martin was in comparison to the defendant?

SERINO: One of the purposes, yes.

O'MARA: And does that photograph accurately depict how skinny Trayvon Martin was?

SERINO: Yes, it does.


O'MARA: If I may.

O'MARA: Good afternoon, Officer.

SERINO: Good afternoon, sir.

O'MARA: How are you?

SERINO: Fine. How are you?

O'MARA: To set the stage, and I know that you had testified to some of this, though not all of it in your direct examination, you were -- it became the chief investigating officer whose responsibility was the entirety of this case, correct?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: So that you were the one who looked at what was done on scene, decided what else needed to be done, tasked that out to the other people who would assist you and basically led the investigation down the path that it was to go? SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: And in doing that, you assigned different tasks to a number of different law enforcement officers, correct?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: Gathering evidence was one task that you put out to other officers, correct?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: Interviewing additional witnesses and sort of setting the stage to get all of the information available that you could, correct?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: And once you'd gather that information, then you would put that together, talk about it with your team that included everyone up to the chief of police, Bill Lee, correct?

SERINO: Correct.

O'MARA: And even included members of the state attorney's office - Eighteenth Circuit State Attorney's office, correct?

SERINO: Yes sir.

O'MARA: It was all part of the investigative team that you were basically in charge of - I won't say that you were in charge of the chief of police - but within the context of this investigation that you were running that team in order to come up with everything that needed to be done to move this case forward?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: Okay. You haven't testified to virtually any of that yet, though, have you? You haven't testified to the tasks given out to the different officers, you haven't testified to your coordination of all that information coming back together, have you?

SERINO: (INAUDIBLE) methodology of the case? No, I haven't.

O'MARA: Basically the only thing you've testified to so far is the statements of my client?

SERINO: Correct, yes.

O'MARA: Okay.

And let's talk about those statements for just a minute. As you first talked to my client, and I'm not going to test your memory too much, but can you give me the timing? We know this event happened on the 26th of February, 2012 about 7:00, 7:15. When was the first time that you spoke to my client?

SERINO: At about five after midnight on the 27th.

O'MARA: Literally seven -- six hours after the event happened, correct?

SERINO: Six hours, five-and-a-half hours, yes.

O'MARA: OK. And you knew, as was just testified to before you, that he had been interviewed by Officer Singleton, correct?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: And you had that information available to you, correct?

SERINO: Yes, I did.

O'MARA: You also had the benefit of all the other information, at least that which was gathered between 7:15 and midnight from Sanford Police Department, correct?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: And you had been working a lot that night, talking to witnesses and interviewing people, correct?

SERINO: Yes sir.

O'MARA: One of those people that you interviewed was the - what we call the eyewitnesses. I'll ask if you call him the eyewitness, John Goode.

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: Do you remember speaking to him?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: And he was the one person who actually had eyes on what happened between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman that night?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: And you had the benefit of that interview with you as you first talk to Mr. Zimmerman?

SERINO: Yes, I did.

O'MARA: So when we look at your interview, various interviews with Mr. Zimmerman, is it fair, then, for the jury to take it in context that you a lot of information to you at midnight that Officer Singleton did not have?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: As a matter of fact, as I think she testified, she had virtually no information available to her at that point, did she?

SERINO: From what I know, no sir.


TAPPER: We'll go right back to the coverage live from the courtroom of the George Zimmerman murder trial. Back after this.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're watching the George Zimmerman murder trial, and the defense attorney is asking questions of homicide detective Chris Serino. Let's listen in.


O'MARA: OK. And you also asked him whether or not he had lost visual of the person, correct?

SERINO: I think I stated to him that he did. I was summarizing what I had known that he had said already.

O'MARA: Because that had come from the Singleton interview, correct?

SERINO: Correct.

O'MARA: Any concern with that?

SERINO: No, sir.

O'MARA: And then you had told him at the beginning of the interview that you would like to do a walk-through or a re-creation the next day, correct?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: Now we had Officer Singleton testified to this, but obviously he was mirandized, correct?

SERINO: Yes, he was.

O'MARA: And affirmatively waived that?

SERINO: Yes, he did.

O'MARA: And you had advised him if he wanted to stop the interrogation at any point that was his right?

SERINO: Officer Singleton did.

O'MARA: He never stopped the interview, did he?

SERINO: No, he did not.

O'MARA: You stopped the interview and said you had other things to do with the investigation.

SERINO: Yes, sir. O'MARA: And it was briefly just a quick check-in with Mr. Zimmerman at that point to get some questions answered, right?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: And in any of this interview with you, and we're going to go through each one with similar questions did he evidence any anger or disdain toward Mr. Martin.

SERINO: No, sir.

O'MARA: Did Officer Singleton even tell you that he wasn't aware that Trayvon Martin had passed away until she told him?

SERINO: I can't recall, sir.

O'MARA: The story that Mr. Zimmerman spoke to you about, and I know we're going to get into some other interviews that went on later, was there anything in that interview that at the point -- let me back up. I'm sorry. He was in police custody from the time that Officer Singleton interviewed him until the time you did, correct?

SERINO: Yes, he was.

O'MARA: He did not have his cell phone available, did he?

SERINO: I don't believe so.

O'MARA: He did not have any access, then, did he to the investigation that was ongoing back at the scene?

SERINO: No, he did not.

O'MARA: So would you agree, then, that he was unaware of anything that you had discovered as to what had happened at the scene?

SERINO: I can safely assume that, yes.

O'MARA: I used the term that it was sort of a virgin interview, the one that he had with Singleton, right? The first time anyone had got to him. That's a police technique, isn't it? You want to a shooter, a person who was at least a person of interest as soon as they can, correct.

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: Before they are infected which other information?

SERINO: Yes, sir. We refer to that as locking them into the statement.

O'MARA: What's the reason for that?

SERINO: So it can be as pristine as possible without being contaminated by outside influences. O'MARA: Exactly. One of your primary goals as an investigator is to make sure every evidence that you can get and keep pristine is the way you want to give it, right?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: That includes pieces of evidence, correct?


O'MARA: Which is why we use gloves and bags and evidence tape to make sure it all stays pristine, right?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: And you want to make sure witnesses stay away from each over. You separate them, don't you, so they don't get the chance to hear what the others are saying?

SERINO: Under best circumstances, yes, sir.

TAPPER: We'll take a break and be right back in a moment.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The courtroom right now is interrupted by a brief side bar. I want to continue to ask our panelists, Jeffrey Toobin and Diane Dimon questions about things earlier today.

Diane, it seems as though Zimmerman's story has stayed consistent. Whether or not you believe it is another matter but it has not really changed significantly. Am I right about that?

DIMON: Absolutely. And that is what his lawyer is very astutely getting this lead detective -- if there's ever a movie, I think Donnie Wahlberg from "Blue Bloods" plays this guy. He's getting him to repeat this is a pristine interview.

And what George Zimmerman, the sequestered George Zimmerman was saying in the police interrogation room was proving true from what officers found at the scene and from what witnesses were saying at the scene. It's a very low key, but a very important line of questioning in my view.

TAPPER: And Jeffrey, the side bar is about to end right. Never mind, let's go back to the courtroom.

O'MARA: You had the information available from John Good, as well as other witness statements when you had this interview with Mr. Zimmerman, correct?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: And you had talked to other ear witnesses or at least read statements that other officers had gathered together as to what they heard, correct?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: That included Mrs. Lauer, who told you she heard what she heard?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: And her fiancee as well, back then her fiancee, right?


O'MARA: You had spoken to them yourself?

SERINO: Yes, I had.

O'MARA: As you were now going back to Mr. Zimmerman, who did not have this information available to him, tell me what concerns you had that Mr. Zimmerman told you that night that did not comport to the information that you were aware of?

SERINO: I had none at that time.

O'MARA: Did he seem to be cagey in his answering to you? Did he seem to be side stepping your answers in any form or way to get around answering your direct questions?

SERINO: No, sir.

O'MARA: Did he seem to do anything that based upon your training and experience evidenced to you what he was being less than straight forward with you?

SERINO: No, he was being straight forward in my opinion.

O'MARA: I think it was in this interview that you talked to him about the anxiety and nightmares that he was going to have because of this event?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: What do you mean by that?

SERINO: Well, based on my experience, people who experience traumatic-type scenarios like he went through, they typically end up with anxiety problems. He appeared to be lacking, in my opinion, as far as what was going on, what he was in the middle of, it just seemed that something was going on with him.

O'MARA: Would you call that in sort of generic terms a real flat affect as to what was happening?

SERINO: Generic terms, yes.

O'MARA: Did that cause you concern that he had in fact gone through a traumatic event and his response was a flat affect about it? SERINO: At some point, yes, it did.

O'MARA: You said to him you're going to be anxious, have nightmares, I'm going to get you some help?

SERINO: Yes, I did.

O'MARA: What kind of help did you mean?

SERINO: Any type of help me might have need.

O'MARA: A psychological intervention maybe?

SERINO: After a medical exam perhaps.

O'MARA: You had not had to draw your weapon and shoot and kill anyone, have you?

SERINO: No, sir, I have not.

O'MARA: But certainly you know fellow officers who have?

SERINO: Yes, I have.

O'MARA: And it is from that experience that you understand what may happen to a person who has had to shoot and kill somebody?

O'MARA: Objection as to similar situation -- unsimilar situation. My objection is to relevance.

JUDGE NELSON: Sustained.

O'MARA: May I at least be heard as to the relevance.

JUDGE NELSON: Relevance what may have happened to other people in other situations.

O'MARA: Yes, your honor. Whatever your life experiences had been, it brought you to the interrogation room that night with Mr. Zimmerman suggesting to him that he was going to have anxiety and nightmares and that you would do whatever you could to help him with that, correct?

SERINO: Yes, sir.

O'MARA: Was he cleaned up by the time that he got to you?

SERINO: Yes, he was.

O'MARA: Did you see what he looked like at the scene?

SERINO: I had seen the picture that Officer Wagner had taken of him prior to --

O'MARA: May I approach the witness, your honor? Just so we're clear --

O'MARA: May I approach the bench? I have an objection.

TAPPER: As they go to side bar, I want to bring in Jeff Toobin. We were talking about this earlier, Jeff, the idea that as Detective Serino recommended, manslaughter might have been an easier sell than the prosecutors are having right now with the evidence they're given.

TOOBIN: It sure is. Look at this cross-examination. This detective is almost going out of his way to say, no, Zimmerman was cooperative, he didn't look like he was changing his mind, he was being honest, he was being forth right.

This is a dream cross-examination of a detective who interrogated your client, the defendant in the case. Now, I don't think this is going to determine the outcome of the case all by itself but, boy, this detective is certainly making George Zimmerman look like one cooperative suspect. And, you know, the defense attorney isle milking that for all its left.

TAPPER: Diane, any closing thoughts?

DIMON: I'm just fascinated watching this defense attorney because he's using this detective to pant his client, as Jeff said, very cooperative but also a very sympathetic guy. You thought he might have anxiety, thought he was traumatized and maybe get him some help.

And then he goes to put up the big, bloody picture of Zimmerman and the prosecution says let's go to side bar. He's doing really good job presenting to this jury that his client was in a terrible state that night, he wasn't a cold blooded murderer out to kill somebody.

TAPPER: Diane, do you think that the prosecutor is doing the best job he can with the facts he's given or is he missing opportunities?

DIMON: Yes. I think he's doing okay but he could get in there and rub it in a little bit more and he's not doing that yet.

TOOBIN: Let's reserve judgment on that.

TAPPER: We'll reserve judgment, that's right. That's it for THE LEAD. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" who will continue the coverage of the George Zimmerman murder trial.